Sermon Title: Who’s Calling the Shots? (Isaiah 45:1-7)
The 20th Sunday after Pentecost
October 18, 2020
In our O.T. reading this morning from this 45th chapter of the prophecy of Isaiah, we are being taught a valuable history lesson. More than dates and events we are being taught Who holds history in His control and power; that is, Who is really calling the shots in this world and why.
Now, I suppose one could say that the history of our world and humanity itself is the story of the struggle for power and control. On the very heals of creation itself, the first power struggle began. The newly created humans, tempted as they were by the “crafty” serpent, sought to wrest away from their Creator the power to control their lives and their destiny. “You will be like God knowing good and evil” was more than a temptation to know stuff! It was a temptation to be the man in charge; to be God Himself. The thinking was that to know what God knows would enable one to realize power over all things.
The idea of the connection between knowledge and the power to control has been around ever since. The phrase “knowledge is power” (scientia potentia est) is often attributed to the 16th century theologian and scholar Sir Francis Bacon, who wrote in his “Meditationes Sacrae” that “knowledge itself is power” (ipsa Scientia potestas est). However, the earliest documented occurrence of the actual phrase “knowledge is power” is from the 7th century Iman Ali, as recorded in the 10th century book “Nahj Al-Balagha.” In his Saying 146, Ali states, “Knowledge is power and it can command obedience. A man of knowledge during his lifetime can make people obey and follow him and he is praised and venerated after his death. Remember that knowledge is a ruler and wealth is its subject.” (Wikipedia)
Clearly history has seen what knowledge can do for the good, as well as for the bad in controlling things and people.
Without a complete rundown of all of history, since we are close to remembering and celebrating the anniversary of the 16th century Reformation, we might simply look to its happenings for illustration. And there, we that the covering up of the truth of Jesus Christ and His salvation by the church hierarchy plunged the whole Western world into darkness and subjugation to false theologies, non-biblical practices, warped notions of work’s righteousness and fears of temporal and eternal punishments. But through the efforts of Martin Luther and others the rediscovery of the true Gospel broke the chains of subjugation and set bodies and souls free with the knowledge of the truth. This knowledge led to a complete transformation of political control and structure of the Medieval society. Europe and eventually the whole world saw the demise of absolute monarchies and the rise of democratic rule. Unfortunately, the struggle was not merely a battle of wits and wills. The change in control came with a river of blood.
The struggle for control continues yet today. Here’s a sampling: there’s Brexit, Britain’s attempts to sever its ties to the European Union, the State of Caledonia’s declaration to be independent from Spain, Russia’s relentless moves to regain control of the areas and countries of the old Soviet Union, and Radical Islam’s blood-thirsty attempts at world domination. At home here in the U.S.A, it’s a whole different fight for control. It’s a fight being waged in the media and in the civil courts to gain control of our hearts and minds. Through social media, fake news, legislating from the bench and the shouting down of free speech, it’s a struggle to, as they say, control the narrative; that is, be in control and influence in what you and I are to hold as truth, whether that be in the realm of religion, politics or moral values.
Unfortunately, one thing remains constant and certain; that is, the struggle for power and control always leaves in its wake, insecurity, uneasiness, pain and suffering of one sort or another. How wonderful then comes this Word of the Lord through His prophet Isaiah to assure us of the incontrovertible truth that there really is One who is in ultimate control and He is our Creator, the LORD … the God of Jacob … the Incarnate One … the God of the cross of Jesus Christ …the God of the redemption and salvation of all peoples and nations no matter what worldly entities seek to exert their control over them.
To teach us all this, the LORD Himself through Isaiah speaks to a certain Cyrus, King of Persia. One must keep in mind, however, that these words were given to Isaiah to speak two centuries before this Cyrus even existed. Cyrus is really a Semitic form of the Persian name Kurush (Lessing, p. 361).
When Isaiah prophesied these words, Judah and Jerusalem were being threatened by the mighty Assyrian Empire. The Assyrians had several centuries before utterly wiped out the northern kingdom of Israel and now they had their sites set on Judah and her king Hezekiah. In order to strengthen the weak hands and knees of the king and the other faithful people of Judah, with the words of this prophecy, as recorded in chapters 36 through 45, the LORD was foretelling events that would take place 200 years into the future. By doing so He signaled that they did not have need to be afraid of Assyria. In fact, the LORD tells them, Assyria herself would be totally defeated by Babylon. And the LORD assured them, that even though they would one day be taken captive by Babylon, themselves, He would bring back their captives to their land and rebuild their capital city of Jerusalem, as well as the temple of the Lord itself.
How would the LORD do this? He said, “Thus says the LORD to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed…”
Amazingly, the LORD was going to deliver His people, not through a king of Israel, a son of David, but through a foreigner, a gentile king, that no one as of yet had even heard of. But the LORD would go before this Cyrus and through his hand bring down the high places of kings… He would cut from their armor belts their weapons leaving them helpless… He would break in pieces the bronze fortified doors of their protective walls. … The LORD would give Cyrus the treasures of darkness, the hoards in secret places; in other words, the financial resources and the manpower for war to conquer powerful kings and nations, establishing and empire so vast, the whole world will be in total awe. At the same time, the LORD had anointed Cyrus to also bring back His people from Babylon to Judah and rebuild His temple in Jerusalem (45:13).
The LORD, YHWH, the Great I Am that I Am, Who had called and appointed Moses to lead His children out of captivity in Egypt had now anointed a new deliverer for His people, this Cyrus, King of Persia. Now, some early Christians interpreted this prophecy of the LORD’s anointed deliverer to be the Messiah Himself, who clearly is foretold of establishing victory for His people in later chapters of Isaiah. In fact, they wanted this to be the Messiah so much, that in the Greek translation of this text found in the Septuagint, the Greek letter iota was added to the spelling of Cyrus’ name. The Greek for Cyrus is Kuros, but with the extra letter it reads kurios; that is, Lord.
But we must note, that nowhere does the LORD indicate that this Cyrus is even a believer, let alone The Messiah. In fact, twice in these verses God says that He is using this Cyrus, “though you do not know me.” That could not be said of the Christ. Besides, nowhere does the LORD refer to this anointed one as “His servant as He consistently does for His anointed Messiah. To be sure, as with deliverers that the LORD had appointed for His people before, like Moses, like David, like Sampson, this anointed one, Cyrus, prefigures the ultimate deliverance Jesus Christ would win, but he is not The Christ.
Likewise, we know from the Bible itself, as well as the histories of first century Jewish historian Josephus, Cyrus II, Iranian King of Persia, was the anointed one of this prophecy. Cyrus saw himself that way. In the Book of Ezra, we read: “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: "Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah” (Ezra 1:1-2).
Imagine being one of the residents of Jerusalem during King Hezekiah’s time hearing the words of this prophecy! What an impact they must have had in squelching your fears. Literally, standing at the gates of your city is the fierce, ruthless, Assyrian army, who had already destroyed your cousins in the Northern Kingdom, plus defeated Egypt and other great powers. Your demise seemed eminent. Yet, these words assured you, the LORD, Who alone is God, Who created the Heavens and the Earth, Who had proclaimed you to be His people, was telling you that you could be assured your nation would survive and in fact a foreign King would be your nation’s deliverer some hundreds of years into the future. Of course, then, this Assyrian invasion would not be your Armageddon. The Assyrian army and their king, like Cyrus and His army later, are not the ones calling the shots. Your LORD God is! In fact, the LORD says to Cyrus in the prophecy, “For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you though you do not know me.”
Dear people of the LORD, in Holy Baptism you were grafted into the Vine of Israel, Jesus Christ (John 15). You are the New Israel (Rom. 9). You, too, stand with hordes at your gates. Chaos, catastrophe, and a cacophony of disasters, the least of which is the Covid pandemic, reverberates through your lives. The world seems out of control. Evil men seem to get the upper hand all too often.
But in this word from Isaiah you are being assured that the LORD, Who in these few verses says three times, He is alone God, is calling all the shots in this world. Yes, the devil continuously is causing mischief and mayhem all over the world and is filling your lives with untold challenges and temptations. Yes, evil people spurred on by their own sinful flesh and the devil are raising hell in our world. Yes, the ancient enemy death is all too often rearing his ugly head in our midst. Yes, the world seems to be going mad with uncontrolled wicked passions, immoral living, and wanton behavior that doesn’t even seem human at times.
But you have no need to be afraid nor be resigned that evil will win out. The devil, the world and our own sinful nature are not gods. There is only one God. He is the LORD, the Holy Triune God. He is the omnipotent Creator of all things and He is still the preserver of all things. The LORD has no rival. No one or no thing can compete with Him or overpower Him. Only He can foretell what is going to happen in 200 years and then make it come to pass. He is the only One who can create light and He is also the same One who can create darkness (v.7). He is the One who can “make well-being”, literally “peace” (shaloam) and He is the same one who can create calamity (v. 7). He alone is calling all the shots.
As Job replied to his wife, “Can we accept good from God and not adversity?” Evil certainly came into the world on account of mankind’s fall into sin and the devil and wicked people can certainly bring evil about in people’s lives as they did in the life of Job in spades. But as proven in Job’s case, they can only do so with the LORD’s permission. He alone is LORD and God. He alone is calling the shots.
And here is your greatest comfort; God is calling all the shots for His purposes and those purposes are centered in your eternal welfare. The LORD raised up His anointed one, Cyrus, to accomplish His purposes in spite of the fact, as the LORD says numerous times, Cyrus did not know Him; that is believe in Him. Yet, the LORD did use Cyrus to bring back His people to Jerusalem and in the process also accomplish His stated goal for Cyrus; that is, that Cyrus might know that it is the LORD, the God of Israel, and not his god Marduk who had called him and established his hand (v. 3) (Lessing). As we heard earlier from Ezra, this Cyrus clearly acknowledged with his own lips.
The LORD also used Cyrus to punish wicked Babylon and other nations, giving them divine justice for their wickedness. The LORD often punishes evil with evil. He uses the sword to punish those who misuse the sword (Matt. 26:52). He even uses disaster and calamity to discipline those He loves that they might not be lost to evil (Heb. 12). And, yes, most importantly, as we see for Judah, the LORD uses world events, rulers and all sorts of worldly things to help and deliver His people. The LORD brought Cyrus to great power that He might, as ruler over the once great Babylonian empire, bring back His people from captivity and build His temple once again in their midst.
I’ve heard some say that President Trump is God’s anointed. Isaiah could say that Cyrus was the LORD’s anointed because the LORD clearly revealed it to him. But we don’t have that clear word from the LORD today to be calling anyone the LORD’s anointed. But as we learn from the text, we do know God is calling the shots. He raises up one and brings down another. He creates peace and He creates disaster. We can say, then, that the LORD God did raise up President Trump to accomplish His purposes just as we can easily say He had previously raised up President Obama to accomplish His purposes. What those purposes were and are we might not know at present but we can be certain that He is calling the shots that all may know that He alone is God and the true and only Savior of the world.
At the same time, you can be assured that He is calling the shots for your sake, as His people. Look at the cross of Jesus. God raised up His one of a kind Anointed One, His Christ, to be your Deliverer. This one was and is the LORD God’s only begotten Son, begotten from all eternity, of His own divine essence, eternally one with Him as the person of the Eternal Father, who yet became man in the womb of Mary. This Anointed One (Christ) is the rightful heir of the throne of David. At His cross He has established the eternal kingdom of peace for you. He suffered at the hands of evil and was even given the full divine punishment for your sins in His own body, to set you free from all your enemies and restore you to the promises land of His eternal kingdom. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is your proof that He who has accomplished all things through His Servant, His Anointed One, has won the victory for you.
Accordingly, you can be sure that He who is calling all the shots will always make good on His promise to you that He will work all things for the good of those who are called according to His purpose no matter how things may look to the contrary (Romans 8:28). “… in all these things (you) are more than conquerors through him who loved (you). For (you can be) sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate (you) from the love of God in Christ Jesus (your) Lord” (Ro. 8:38,39).
Praise be to the LORD, who rules heaven and earth for you! Amen.